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'Collected Stories' presented at Grizzly Peak Winery

ASHLAND — Following the success of a full-house performance of “A Walk in the Woods” that sold out in two weeks, tickets will become available this week for “Collected Stories,” presented by Rogue Theater Company.

The Pulitzer Prize-finalist work by Donald Margulies came out as a 1996 play, and now in 2020, Rogue Theater Company Artistic Director Jessica Sage found her two ideal cast members for the two-woman show: Renee Hewitt and Hazel James.

They barely need rehearsal — “it’s like a well-worn shoe the way they come into their own with these characters,” Sage said.

Hewitt fell in love with the play for its eloquently written depth and dove head first into research for her character — a Greenwich Village writer who takes on a young protege.

The playwright interwove authors, poets and characters in a particular fashion — a thrill for Hewitt as an actor.

“He gives you so much meat on the bone to just rip into, digest and chew,” she said.

In her approach to a role, Hewitt often first grieves the choices and faults of her character in the research process so she can become them without hesitation. Constructing an internal life is both exciting and frightening, as she confronts the pain that brought her character to a certain point in their life story.

These two actors weave the tale together and hit their marks repeatedly throughout the script — mining gems out of a mountain of possibility, Sage said.

These two women, inside their characters, are “enthralling,” she said.

Hewitt was committed to acting projects from January through November, which were canceled one after the other when the coronavirus pandemic hit Oregon. With nothing scheduled for August, she was hungry for another project, and “Collected Stories” filled the gap.

Zoom can provide a lot, but does not fulfill the need to be working alongside others on stage, she said. Action and reaction only happens organically and tangibly face to face.

In addition to seeking ways to provide a creative outlet for the public, live theater is a critical component of Sage and Hewitt’s personalities.

Each time Hewitt endeavored to walk away from theater, such as when her children were young, she always returned to the place where her creative energy and passion coalesce.

“As artists, we need to do this. I find my life is not as fulfilled without theater. I’m a better person, friend and wife when I’m being creative and I feel my life has purpose.”

James also found her way home to live theater after time away and canceled projects. Reading the script, she heavily identified with the characters and the story for its timeless lessons. In this show, two women choose to create a sense of family without sharing blood.

The script further explores the meaning of writing and creating art — methods of surviving dark times in history.

James finds solidarity and unity with strangers through live theater. Catharsis, connection and empathy are traits of the live performing arts that have lasted since early Greek theater and Shakespeare.

“The medicine our world needs is connection to each other,” James said.

Sage said she was shocked to see the sheer quantity of locals hungry to consume live theater, many of whom are uncomfortable sitting indoors in close proximity to others. The response to “A Walk in the Woods” from Grizzly Peak Winery was “astounding,” she said.

After a performance Sept. 26, audience members applauded the cast for offering a thought-provoking experience outside to keep the live performing arts alive in the valley.

Recognizing the wide range of discomfort felt regarding the pandemic, “Collected Stories” will be livestreamed as well — those who still don’t want to leave home can watch from their computer or television screen, Sage said.

“Collected Stories” will debut in the outdoor, physically distanced show setting at Grizzly Peak Winery Oct. 15 live only, and Oct. 22 with a livestream option.

These two actors weave the tale together and hit their marks repeatedly throughout the script — mining gems out of a mountain of possibility, Sage said. Her final word: These two women, inside their characters, are “enthralling.”

Renee Hewitt and Hazel James Photo by Gary Roberts